The queen who ruled without a crown

Judit Polgar quit the game at 38, an age when quite a few have been World champions, writes P. K. Ajith Kumar.

Twenty-three years later, India’s first Woman Grandmaster S. Vijayalakshmi vividly remembers that auburn-haired girl from the World Youth Chess Championship in Warsaw.

“I was playing at the Girls’ Under-12 event and I noticed her because she was playing in a boys’ event — Under-16, I think,” she says. “Even today you hardly see girls competing in the boys’ event at a World Championship, though men and women often meet each other in many events. It was inconceivable then.”

The girl whom Vijayalakshmi watched with awe and admiration at the 1991 World Youth Championship was Judit Polgar, who would go on to become not just the greatest female chess player of all time, but the greatest sportswoman as well.

“She won a medal too, but it would take me a few more years to learn more about her; the Internet hadn’t arrived yet,” says Vijayalakshmi. “I did learn more about her and quite a bit about chess too, watching her games.”

Viji is disappointed that she would not be able to follow any more great games from Judit, who quit competitive chess a few days ago. She quit at 38, an age when quite a few have been World champions.

Judit has never been a World champion (though she won the World boys’ titles twice). She never fought in a World women’s championship. She was just too good for women, and she was good enough to beat any top male player. She has beaten Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen, all not just World champions, but all-time greats.

VISWANATHAN ANAND IN ACTION AGAINST JUDIT POLGAR. Among her most famous wins was against Anand in 1999 (Dos Hermanas).-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

She herself is an all-time great, too. She is, in fact, regarded as the greatest prodigy ever in chess. She had broken into the men’s Top 100 as a 12-year-old. She broke Bobby Fischer’s 32-year-old record to become the world’s youngest Grandmaster, at 15.

Judit was taught the moves by her eldest sister Susan. “I am proud to be Judit’s first ever coach,” Susan had told this writer during the World Championship match between Anand and Carlsen in Chennai last year. “She was a fine student.”

The Polgar sisters — the middle one Sofia was a World No. 6 — were trained in chess from a very young age by their father Laszlo, who believed that geniuses could be made. It was Susan’s genius, of course, that the world saw for the first time.

Then, Judit came along.

She turned the chess world upside down, as she fought only with men (outside the Chess Olympiad in which she and her sisters gave Hungary a historic title in 1998). Strong Grandmasters were particularly careful when they played against her because they knew they would be on the front page of newspapers if they were beaten by this pretty girl with a ponytail.

More often than not, she made it to the front page. When Kasparov was the World No. 1 and was still the strongest player of all time, in 2002, she beat him. A woman defeating the No. 1 male player — it should rank among the most historic moments in sport.

Three years later, she became the World No. 8 among men. She may never have come anywhere close to winning the World Championship, but she has bruised the male ego with some dazzling chess, right through her career. A brilliantly attacking player, she has played breathtaking chess against the finest of players. Among her most famous wins include those against Anand in 1999 (Dos Hermanas) and Alexei Shirov in 1994 (Buenos Aires).

“Yes, I remember that game she played against Anand,” says Vijayalakshmi. “That was quite astonishing.”

Quite like the player she was.